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   Chapter 1 THE GREEN OF THE LEAF.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 19842

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Nothing but leaves-leaves-leaves! The green things don't know enough to do anything better!"

Leslie Goldthwaite said this, standing in the bay-window among her plants, which had been green and flourishing, but persistently blossomless, all winter, and now the spring days were come.

Cousin Delight looked up; and her white ruffling, that she was daintily hemstitching, fell to her lap, as she looked, still with a certain wide intentness in her eyes, upon the pleasant window, and the bright, fresh things it framed. Not the least bright and fresh among them was the human creature in her early girlhood, tender and pleasant in its beautiful leafage, but waiting, like any other young and growing life, to prove what sort of flower should come of it.

"Now you've got one of your 'thoughts,' Cousin Delight! I see it 'biggening,' as Elspie says." Leslie turned round, with her little green watering-pot suspended in her hand, waiting for the thought.

To have a thought, and to give it, were nearly simultaneous things with Cousin Delight; so true, so pure, so unselfish, so made to give,-like perfume or music, which cannot be, and be withheld,-were thoughts with her.

I must say a word, before I go further, of Delight Goldthwaite. I think of her as of quite a young person; you, youthful readers, would doubtless have declared that she was old,-very old, at least for a young lady. She was twenty-eight, at this time of which I write; Leslie, her young cousin, was just "past the half, and catching up," as she said herself,-being fifteen. Leslie's mother called Miss Goldthwaite, playfully, "Ladies' Delight;" and, taking up the idea, half her women friends knew her by this significant and epigrammatic title. There was something doubly pertinent in it. She made you think at once of nothing so much as heart's-ease,-a garden heart's-ease, that flower of many names; not of the frail, scentless, wild wood-violet,-she had been cultured to something larger. The violet nature was there, colored and shaped more richly, and gifted with rare fragrance-for those whose delicate sense could perceive it. The very face was a pansy face; with its deep, large, purple-blue eyes, and golden brows and lashes, the color of her hair,-pale gold, so pale that careless people who had perception only for such beauty as can flash upon you from a crowd, or across a drawing-room, said hastily that she had no brows or lashes, and that this spoiled her. She was not a beauty, therefore; nor was she, in any sort, a belle. She never drew around her the common attention that is paid eagerly to very pretty, outwardly bewitching girls; and she never seemed to care for this. At a party, she was as apt as not to sit in a corner; but the quiet people,-the mothers, looking on, or the girls, waiting for partners,-getting into that same corner also, found the best pleasure of their evening there. There was something about her dress, too, that women appreciated most fully; the delicate textures, the finishings-and only those-of rare, exquisite lace, the perfect harmony of the whole unobtrusive toilet,-women looked at these in wonder at the unerring instinct of her taste; in wonder, also, that they only with each other raved about her. Nobody had ever been supposed to be devoted to her; she had never been reported as "engaged;" there had never been any of this sort of gossip about her; gentlemen found her, they said, hard to get acquainted with; she had not much of the small talk which must usually begin an acquaintance; a few-her relatives, or her elders, or the husbands of her intimate married friends-understood and valued her; but it was her girl friends and women friends who knew her best, and declared that there was nobody like her; and so came her sobriquet, and the double pertinence of it.

Especially she was Leslie Goldthwaite's delight. Leslie had no sisters, and her aunts were old,-far older than her mother; on her father's side, a broken and scattered family had left few ties for her; next to her mother, and even closer, in some young sympathies, she clung to Cousin Delight.

With this diversion, we will go back now to her, and to her thought.

"I was thinking," she said, with that intent look in her eyes, "I often think, of how something else was found, once, having nothing but leaves; and of what came to it."

"I know," answered Leslie, with an evasive quickness, and turned round with her watering-pot to her plants again.

There was sometimes a bit of waywardness about Leslie Goldthwaite; there was a fitfulness of frankness and reserve. She was eager for truth; yet now and then she would thrust it aside. She said that "nobody liked a nicely pointed moral better than she did; only she would just as lief it shouldn't be pointed at her." The fact was, she was in that sensitive state in which many a young girl finds herself, when she begins to ask and to weigh with herself the great questions of life, and shrinks shyly from the open mention of the very thing she longs more fully to apprehend.

Cousin Delight took no notice; it is perhaps likely that she understood sufficiently well for that. She turned toward the table by which she sat, and pulled toward her a heavy Atlas that lay open at the map of Connecticut. Beside it was Lippincott's Gazetteer,-open, also.

"Traveling, Leslie?"

"Yes. I've been a charming journey this morning, before you came. I wonder if I ever shall travel, in reality. I've done a monstrous deal of it with maps and gazetteers."

"This hasn't been one of the stereotyped tours, it seems."

"Oh, no! What's the use of doing Niagara or the White Mountains, or even New York and Philadelphia and Washington, on the map? I've been one of my little by-way trips, round among the villages; stopping wherever I found one cuddled in between a river and a hill, or in a little seashore nook. Those are the places, after all, that I would hunt out, if I had plenty of money to go where I liked with. It's so pleasant to imagine how the people live there, and what sort of folks they would be likely to be. It isn't so much traveling as living round,-awhile in one home, and then in another. How many different little biding-places there are in the world! And how queer it is only really to know about one or two of them!"

"What's this place you're at just now? Winsted?"

"Yes; there's where I've brought up, at the end of that bit of railroad. It's a bigger place than I fancied, though. I always steer clear of the names that end in 'ville.' They're sure to be stupid, money-making towns, all grown up in a minute, with some common man's name tacked on to them, that happened to build a saw-mill, or something, first. But Winsted has such a sweet, little, quiet, English sound. I know it never began with a mill. They make pins and clocks and tools and machines there now; and it's 'the largest and most prosperous post-village of Litchfield County.' But I don't care for the pins and machinery. It's got a lake alongside of it; and Still River-don't that sound nice?-runs through; and there are the great hills, big enough to put on the map, out beyond. I can fancy where the girls take their sunset walks; and the moonlight parties, boating on the pond, and the way the woods look, round Still River. Oh, yes! that's one of the places I mean to go to."

Leslie Goldthwaite lived in one of the inland cities of Massachusetts. She had grown up and gone to school there, and had never yet been thirty miles away. Her father was a busy lawyer, making a handsome living for his family, and laying aside abundantly for their future provision, but giving himself no lengthened recreations, and scarcely thinking of them as needful for the rest.

It was a pleasant, large, brown, wooden house they lived in, on the corner of two streets; with a great green door-yard about it on two sides, where chestnut and cherry trees shaded it from the public way, and flower-beds brightened under the parlor windows and about the porch. Just greenness and bloom enough to suggest, always, more; just sweetness and sunshine and bird-song enough, in the early summer days, to whisper of broad fields and deep woods where they rioted without stint; and these days always put Leslie into a certain happy impatience, and set her dreaming and imagining; and she learned a great deal of her geography in the fashion that we have hinted at.

Miss Goldthwaite was singularly discursive and fragmentary in her conversation this morning, somehow. She dropped the map-traveling suddenly, and asked a new question. "And how comes on the linen-drawer?"

"O Cousin Del! I'm humiliated,-disgusted! I feel as small as butterflies' pinfeathers! I've been to see the Haddens. Mrs. Linceford has just got home from Paris, and brought them wardrobes to last to remotest posterity! And such things! Such rufflings, and stitchings, and embroiderings! Why, mine look-as if they'd been made by the blacksmith!"

The "linen-drawer" was an institution of Mrs. Goldthwaite's; resultant, partly, from her old-fashioned New England ideas of womanly industry and thrift,-born and brought up, as she had been, in a family whose traditions were of house-linen sufficient for a lifetime spun and woven by girls before their twenty-first year, and whose inheritance, from mother to daughter, was invariably of heedfully stored personal and household plenishings, made of pure material that was worth the laying by, and carefully bleached and looked to year by year; partly, also, from a certain theory of wisdom which she had adopted, that when girls were once old enough to care for and pride themselves on a plentiful outfit, it was best they should have it as a natural prerogative of young-ladyhood, rather than that the "trousseau" should come to be, as she believed it so apt to be, one of the inciting temptations to heedless matrimony. I have heard of a mot

her whose passion was for elegant old lace; and who boasted to her female friends that, when her little daughter was ten years old, she had her "lace-box," with the beginning of her hoard in costly contributions from the stores of herself and of the child's maiden aunts. Mrs. Goldthwaite did a better and more sensible thing than this; when Leslie was fifteen, she presented her with pieces of beautiful linen and cotton and cambric, and bade her begin to make garments which should be in dozens, to be laid by, in reserve, as she completed them, until she had a well-filled bureau that should defend her from the necessity of what she called a "wretched living from hand to mouth,-always having underclothing to make up, in the midst of all else that she would find to do and to learn."

Leslie need not have been ashamed, and I don't think in her heart she was, of the fresh, white, light-lying piles that had already begun to make promise of filling a drawer, which she drew out as she answered Cousin Delight's question.

The fine-lined gathers; the tiny dots of stitches that held them to their delicate bindings; the hems and tucks, true to a thread, and dotted with the same fairy needle dimples (no machine-work, but all real, dainty finger-craft); the bits of ruffling peeping out from the folds, with their edges in almost invisible whip-hems; and here and there a finishing of lovely, lace-like crochet, done at odd minutes, and for "visiting work,"-there was something prettier and more precious, really, in all this than in the imported fineries which had come, without labor and without thought, to her friends the Haddens. Besides, there were the pleasant talks and readings of the winter evenings, all threaded in and out, and associated indelibly with every seam. There was the whole of "David Copperfield," and the beginning of "Our Mutual Friend," ruffled up into the night-dresses; and some of the crochet was beautiful with the rhymed pathos of "Enoch Arden," and some with the poetry of the "Wayside Inn;" and there were places where stitches had had to be picked out and done over, when the eye grew dim and the hand trembled while the great war news was being read.

Leslie loved it, and had a pride in it all; it was not, truly and only, humiliation and disgust at self-comparison with the Haddens, but some other and unexplained doubt which moved her now, and which was stirred often by this, or any other of the objects and circumstances of her life, and which kept her standing there with her hand upon the bureau-knob, in a sort of absence, while Cousin Delight looked in, approved, and presently dropped quietly among the rest, like a bit of money into a contribution-box, the delicate breadths of linen cambric she had just finished hemstitching and rolled together.

"Oh, thank you! But, Cousin Delight," said Leslie, shutting the drawer, and turning short round, suddenly, "I wish you'd just tell me-what you think-is the sense of that-about the fig-tree! I suppose it's awfully wicked, but I never could see. Is everything fig-leaves that isn't out and out fruit, and is it all to be cursed, and why should there be anything but leaves when 'the time of figs was not yet'?" After her first hesitation, she spoke quickly, impetuously, and without pause, as something that would come out.

"I suppose that has troubled you, as I dare say it has troubled a great many other people," said Cousin Delight. "It used to be a puzzle and a trouble to me. But now it seems to me one of the most beautiful things of all." She paused.

"I cannot see how," said Leslie emphatically. "It always seems to me so-somehow-unreasonable; and-angry."

She said this in a lower tone, as afraid of the uttered audacity of her own thought; and she walked off, as she spoke, towards the window once more, and stood with her back to Miss Goldthwaite, almost as if she wished to have done, again, with the topic. It was not easy for Leslie to speak out upon such things; it almost made her feel cross when she had done it.

"People mistake the true cause and effect, I think," said Delight Goldthwaite, "and so lose all the wonderful enforcement of that acted parable. It was not, 'Cursed be the fig-tree because I have found nothing thereon;' but, 'Let no fruit grow on thee, henceforward, forever.' It seems to me I can hear the tone of tender solemnity in which Jesus would say such words; knowing, as only he knew, all that they meant, and what should come, inevitably, of such a sentence. 'And presently the fig-tree withered away.' The life was nothing, any longer, from the moment when it might not be, what all life is, a reaching forward to the perfecting of some fruit. There was nothing to come, ever again, of all its greenness and beauty, and the greenness and beauty, which were only a form and a promise, ceased to be. It was the way he took to show his disciples, in a manner they should never forget, the inexorable condition upon which all life is given, and that the barren life, so soon as its barrenness is absolutely hopeless, becomes a literal death."

Leslie stood still, with her back to Miss Goldthwaite, and her face to the window. Her perplexity was changed, but hardly cleared. There were many things that crowded into her thoughts, and might have been spoken; but it was quite impossible for her to speak. Impossible on this topic, and she certainly could not speak, at once, on any other.

Many seconds of silence counted themselves between the two. Then Cousin Delight, feeling an intuition of much that held and hindered the young girl, spoke again. "Does this make life seem hard?"

"Yes," said Leslie then, with an effort that hoarsened her very voice, "frightful." And as she spoke, she turned again quickly, as if to be motionless longer were to invite more talk, and went over to the other window, where her bird-cage hung, and began to take down the glasses.

"Like all parables, it is manifold," said Delight gently. "There is a great hope in it, too."

Leslie was at her basin, now, turning the water faucet, to rinse and refill the little drinking-vessel. She handled the things quietly, but she made no pause.

"It shows that, while we see the leaf, we may have hope of the fruit, in ourselves or in others."

She could not see Leslie's face. If she had, she would have perceived a quick lifting and lightening upon it; then a questioning that would not very long be repressed to silence.

The glasses were put in the cage again, and presently Leslie came back to a little low seat by Miss Goldthwaite's side, which she had been occupying before all this talk began. "Other people puzzle me as much as myself," she said. "I think the whole world is running to leaves, sometimes."

"Some things flower almost invisibly, and hide away their fruit under thick foliage. It is often only when the winds shake their leaves down, and strip the branches bare, that we find the best that has been growing."

"They make a great fuss and flourish with the leaves, though, as long as they can. And it's who shall grow the broadest and tallest, and flaunt out, with the most of them. After all, it's natural; and they are beautiful in themselves. And there's a 'time' for leaves, too, before the figs."

"Exactly. We have a right to look for the leaves, and to be glad of them. That is a part of the parable."

"Cousin Delight! Let's talk of real things, and let the parable alone a minute."

Leslie sprang impulsively to her bureau again, and flung forth the linen drawer.

"There are my fig-leaves,-some of them; and here are more." She turned, with a quick movement, to her wardrobe; pulled out and uncovered a bonnet-box which held a dainty headgear of the new spring fashion, and then took down from a hook and tossed upon it a silken garment that fluttered with fresh ribbons. "How much of this outside business is right, and how much wrong, I should be glad to know? It all takes time and thoughts; and those are life. How much life must go into the leaves? That's what puzzles me. I can't do without the things; and I can't be let to take 'clear comfort' in them, as grandma says, either." She was on the floor, now, beside her little fineries; her hands clasped together about one knee, and her face turned up to Cousin Delight's. She looked as if she half believed herself to be ill-used.

"And clothes are but the first want,-the primitive fig-leaves; the world is full of other outside business,-as much outside as these," pursued Miss Goldthwaite, thoughtfully.

"Everything is outside," said Leslie. "Learning, and behaving, and going, and doing, and seeing, and hearing, and having. 'It's all a muddle,' as the poor man says in 'Hard Times.'"

"I don't think I can do without the parable," said Cousin Delight. "The real inward principle of the tree-that which corresponds to thought and purpose in the soul-urges always to the finishing of its life in the fruit. The leaves are only by the way,-an outgrowth of the same vitality, and a process toward the end; but never, in any living thing, the end itself."

"Um," said Leslie, in her nonchalant fashion again; her chin between her two hands now, and her head making little appreciative nods. "That's like condensed milk; a great deal in a little of it. I'll put the fig-leaves away now, and think it over."

But, as she sprang up, and came round behind Miss Goldthwaite's chair, she stopped and gave her a little kiss on the top of her head. If Cousin Delight had seen, there was a bright softness in the eyes, which told of feeling, and of gladness that welcomed the quick touch of truth.

Miss Goldthwaite knew one good thing,-when she had driven her nail. "She never hammered in the head with a punch, like a carpenter," Leslie said of her. She believed that, in moral tool-craft, that finishing implement belonged properly to the hand of an after-workman.

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